It’s been fascinating to me to watch how the sibling disciplines of marketing, advertising and PR are reacting to the tidal wave of the Web 2.0 revolution. The way I see it, this race to awareness and wisdom has been a bumpy ride with laggards and leaders in all camps. But marketing teams and advertising agencies – despite some celebrated stumbles – seem to be well ahead of the staid PR community. This recent article in BusinessWeek makes a strong case of why, and how, the advertising community has led the way.

The quick reason is easy: fear of extinction. No industry is as threatened by the social media movement as traditional advertising. The slow but inevitable death of one-way messaging means marketing teams and ad firms can no longer dominate the brand message or discussion. In an environment with unlimited choices and massive amounts of information and commentary available to all, information about products is no longer controlled or even generated by the companies or their ad agencies.  Word of mouth is now the most influential marketing force, and overt selling is anathema to the free-flying ethos of many social networks and websites. Over the last few years the smarter ad agencies have accepted this paradigm shift (cliche alert!) and are focusing on engaging in, and shaping, the conversation rather than just pushing their products.

PR is a different story. The two main camps – in my humble opinion – are those in violent denial or others who aren’t even aware enough of these changes to have an opinion. (And no, going to one of those canned industry conferences on the topic does not count as awareness or understanding.)  Perhaps because their demise does not appear so imminent or obvious, many PR professionals are well behind their marketing cousins in terms of understanding the trends and the technology. It’s time they open their blinds and pay attention to what is happening – those who finish last may not get to compete again.

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